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Jeff Carlson

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The Three Village Central School District Board of Education will put its rejected budget up for a second vote. At its May 25 meeting, the board elected to resubmit the failed budget unaltered for taxpayers’ approval. 

“Since this is what the majority supported, this is what we should put forward,” said Jeff Carlson, deputy superintendent for business services, during a phone interview last week. 

Although 57.7% of taxpayers voted in favor of the $222.6 million budget — 2,286-1,677 — it failed to pass. That was because the proposed budget pierced the 1.37% cap on the tax levy increase, necessitating a supermajority approval, or 60% of the vote, to pass.

The failed budget has a tax levy increase of 1.85%, which officials say would bring in an additional $777,000 in revenue and represents a tax levy difference of $58 per year for the average taxpayer.   

“We want to get back on track” and position the district for long-term financial stability, Carlson said of the decision to pierce the cap.  

After spending close to $7 million from district reserves to enable a full reopening last September, the district needs to start paying itself back. It has budgeted about $800,000 to do so in the coming year.

Carlson added that the district needs to have flexibility in its budget in case there is a resurgence of COVID-19 in the fall. After a year of having schools open to all students every day, “we don’t want to go backward,” he said.   

The district is receiving $1.85 million in federal aid, which is earmarked for COVID-related expenses. While some districts received much larger allocations and must spread out their spending, Three Village does not have such restrictions, Carlson said. District officials would like to use the money over the next two years. Carlson explained that a one-time use would create a gap in the budget that would then need to be filled in the following year.

If the budget fails again, there will be no increase to the tax levy. That would mean a shortfall of about $3 million and that major construction or improvements to district property would not take place. Carlson said during the interview that it would not be disastrous, and the district would “make it as painless as possible for the kids.” He also said the district would then use all of the federal money for the coming year. 

Cuts would likely be made to some electives, and class sizes might increase on a district level, Carlson said. He added that funds budgeted for capital projects, which under a passed budget could only be used for building repairs and other maintenance and improvements, could be shifted to other areas of the budget. 

“Our buildings are in good shape,” he said, and it would be better to put capital projects on hold for a year rather than adversely impact academic programs.

The budget hearing was due to be held Wednesday, June 2. The revote will take place, 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesday, June 15, at Ward Melville High School located at 380 Old Town Road. The vote will take place in one location to make it easier for community members to know  where to go, Carlson said.

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Administrators say remote option will be available, students to wear masks all day

File photo

By Andrea Paldy

On Aug. 12, the Three Village Central School District held the first of three state-mandated information sessions about how it will address coronavirus-related concerns for the upcoming school year. During the live, 2 1/2 hour YouTube video stream, members of the district administration answered previously emailed questions about the fall reopening.

“We want it to not just be safe. We want people to feel safe, as well — students, their parents and our staff.”

— Jeff Carlson

Three Village, which earlier had announced its plan to fully reopen for in-person classes in September, announced during the session that it will also offer a fully remote option to families uncomfortable with sending their children back to school, or who have medical reasons for keeping their children at home.

Questions from parents last Wednesday centered on how the district would ensure student safety. Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said that the district will follow recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in taking a “more conservative” approach toward masks. Students and staff will be required to wear masks “even when physical distance can be achieved,” she said.

In addition to lunchtime and 10-minute mask breaks, students will not be required to wear masks during outdoor recess, which will be staggered to help maintain cohort groupings and social distance. Pedisich said the district would reevaluate the plan as the year goes forward.

Each building will have extra masks for students or staff who don’t have them or whose masks are lost or damaged throughout the day, officials said.

Classrooms, learning spaces and lunchrooms will be reconfigured so that students can be at least 6 feet apart, Pedisich said. Additionally, said Jeff Carlson, deputy superintendent for business services, during the discussion about facilities, clear shields will be mounted to elementary school desks, while secondary students will be given portable, collapsible shields to take to each class and to and from their homes.

Carlson also said that areas such as auditoriums, secondary cafeterias, libraries and music rooms will be equipped with high efficiency MERV-13 filters, while classrooms will have unit ventilators that will circulate fresh air into the spaces.

High touch areas such as lunch tables, school bus seats, doorknobs, stair rails and bathrooms will be cleaned throughout the day, in addition to thorough cleanings at night, he said. There will also be spray cleaners in classrooms to wipe down desks as needed, though Carlson said parents might want to send sandwich bags with disinfectant wipes to school with their secondary students.

“We want it to not just be safe,” he said. “We want people to feel safe, as well — students, their parents and our staff.”

While administrators expect the average elementary class size to decrease from 18 students once some parents opt out of the in-person plan, the district is working to reduce secondary class sizes to ensure social distancing. It is also planning to adjust schedules, with students changing classes at different times to reduce hallway congestion.

The plan, Carlson said, is to use reserves to hire more teachers to cover additional class sections as well as additional custodial staff.

The district also outlined additional measures to direct student traffic and encourage social distancing. They will include the placement of signs, tape, stickers and cones and other markers, as well as the creation of videos that deliver hygiene messages.

While all secondary students currently have Chromebooks, the district is expanding the initiative to include all elementary students. This decision will limit the amount of supplies students will need at school, since students will not be allowed to use cubbies, closet hooks or lockers for their personal items, officials said.

“We are working very hard to make sure that all students and their families feel that they are getting a substantial and quality educational opportunity.”

— Cheryl Pedisich

Gary Dabrusky, assistant superintendent for human resources, went over health protocols, saying that parents and staff will be able to use an app to record daily health screenings, which will include temperature and other symptom checks, each morning before school. He added that students or staff who begin to show symptoms during the day would be moved discreetly — to maintain privacy — to an isolated area where a nurse would be able to assess their condition.

The district will follow state Department of Health protocols when it comes to contact tracing and assist officials by keeping accurate attendance records, schedules and logs of visitors, who will be limited to vendors performing essential or emergency facilities-related tasks, Dabrusky said.

Kevin Scanlon, assistant superintendent for educational services, discussed academics and remote instruction. Whether students choose remote rather than in-person instruction, or all students end up on a remote plan, because of school closure, instruction will be “real-time teacher facilitated,” he said. It means that students will receive live instruction. Students choosing the remote option at the secondary level will follow their regular class schedule and log into live classes and interact with their teachers and classmates from home.

At the elementary level, specific teachers will be assigned to teach in-person classes, while others will be assigned to remote students, Scanlon said.

The deadline for the district’s most recent parent survey, which polls parents regarding choices of in-person return, hybrid or remote instruction, is Aug. 21. While parents have until the first day of school to change their minds, Scanlon said that it is “critical” that they get their choices in as soon as possible so that the district can staff and balance classes and get schedules to students.

Pedisich said that families who choose the fully remote option can change to in-person instruction at the beginning of the second or third trimester for elementary school, or the beginning of the second semester for secondary school. In-person students can switch to remote at any time.

“We want parents to understand that choosing a remote option for their child is not giving their child any less of an education at any level,” she said. “We are working very hard to make sure that all students and their families feel that they are getting a substantial and quality educational opportunity.”

The superintendent also emphasized that the district’s plans are “fluid” and could
still change.

“We are willing to make those adaptations to make it as safe as we possibly can,” she said.

By Andrea Paldy

Despite the upheaval to daily life, the Three Village community is doing what it can to stay informed and exercise democracy.

In anticipation of the Three Village Central School District budget vote and school board election by absentee ballot June 9, more than 250 people registered for last week’s virtual Meet the Candidates night, hosted by the Three Village Civic Association and the Three Village Chamber of Commerce.

Incumbents Inger Germano, Irene Gische and Dr. Jeff Kerman are running against newcomers Shaorui Li, David McKinnon and Vinny Menten for three seats on the Three Village school board.

Before the candidates discussed their platforms and answered questions, Jeff Carlson, the district’s deputy superintendent for business services, discussed the proposed 2020-21 budget. The $218.84 million budget falls within the 1.96 percent cap on the tax levy increase and represents a 1.75 percent increase on the 2019-20 budget.

“I think it’s pretty obvious to say we’re not adding any new programs for next year,” Carlson said, alluding to uncertainty about state aid and the possibility of further cuts to aid during the school year.

The district has prepared for multiple scenarios, and the budget reflects reductions in equipment, supplies, conferences and some field trips, the deputy superintendent said. There are also some cuts to personnel, such as clerical, custodial and administrative staff — areas that Carlson said would have “as little impact on educational programs as possible.”

The district did see some savings from the early school closure this year, when the Acme Bus Corp., which provided the district’s minibuses, went out of business. The money saved from not paying Acme offset the loss of the monthly over $100,000 in childcare revenue and over $200,000 in monthly revenue from food service sales and federal and state reimbursements, Carlson said. The district has continued to pay a reduced fee to Suffolk Transportation Service, which provides big buses, to keep the contract intact. Bids for a new minibus company were due last week, Carlson said.

At a May school board meeting, Carlson mentioned the possibility of drawing from district reserves should there be drastic cuts in aid. The district’s reserves are divided into those that are restricted to specific uses, such as retirement contributions and workers’ compensation, and those that are unrestricted and can be targeted to “a rainy day,” Carlson said during a phone interview. Reserves are built up over time from unspent funds at the end of a fiscal year. The district currently has approximately $15 million in restricted reserves and about $6.5 million in unrestricted reserves, Carlson said.

A budget item that has caught the attention of some residents addresses the salaries of the superintendents, which appear to increase in next year’s budget. Since the superintendents have year-to-year contracts that do not have salary increases built in, their salary increases are not reflected in the adopted budget, Carlson said. He added that their raises are determined by the board of education after the adopted budget is passed and are reflected in the adjusted budget.

While the amount of money allocated to the budget remains the same, any changes to the distribution among line items are noted in the adjusted budget. Carlson said the superintendents’ salaries listed for the 2020-21 school year reflect the increases granted last July for this school year’s budget. This means the salaries budgeted for next year are the same amount as this school year.

In the 2020-21 adopted budget, the salary of Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich is shown at $325,000, a $25,500 or 8.51 percent increase.

If the budget does not pass, Carlson said it is not clear whether there would be a date for a revote. If there is no revote or a new budget does not pass, the district would have to move to a contingent budget, he said. This means the tax levy would not increase and the district would have to cut $3.1 million. At that point, capital projects would be cut, and the administration would have to decide where to make additional reductions.

“Of course, we would do whatever we could to have as little impact upon the educational program,” Carlson said.

He addressed the process for counting votes. To ensure ballot secrecy, the board appointed 23 election inspectors to count the votes. After 5 p.m. June 9, the ballots will be removed and separated from the sealed envelopes — which have residents’ names and signatures — before they are counted. There will be live streaming of the process, Carlson said.

All ballots must be received at the North Country Administration building by 5 p.m. on June 9.

Carlson’s presentation, along with those of the Three Village board of education candidates, can be seen at the civic association website, www.threevillagecivics.org. Also visit www.tbrnewsmedia.com for candidate profiles.

Ward Melville High School. Photo by Greg Catalano

By Andrea Paldy

Three Village residents said “yes” to the proposed $215 million budget for the 2019-20 school year Tuesday.

The usually sparsely attended meeting to certify the budget vote drew a number of parents, students and community members who wanted to voice concerns about a possible staffing change in health and athletics.

As expected, incumbent Jonathan Kornreich and newcomer Vinny Vizzo, who ran uncontested for two school board seats, were elected for three-year terms. 

Of the 2,087 votes cast, 1,559 voted in favor of the budget and 528 voted against it. 

Next year’s budget stays within the 2.53 percent cap on the maximum allowable tax levy increase and requires no cuts to programs or staffing for budgetary reasons, district officials have said.

Jeff Carlson, assistant superintendent for business services, discusses the proposed 2019-20 school district budget at the April meeting. Photo by Andrea Paldy

The $158.9 million tax levy makes up the bulk of the district’s revenue. Funding from the state, which includes building aid, is $46.6 million. State aid, not including money for capital improvements, increased by $287,729. Jeff Carlson, assistant superintendent for business services, said this is consistent with the 0.8 percent average increase in aid since 2009. 

The district will earn about $6.2 million in revenue from other sources such as tuition from school districts whose students attend Three Village schools, school-age child care and other district-run programs and enrichment. A sum of $3 million from the district’s fund balance account has also been budgeted as revenue.  

A new source of revenue in the coming year will be Patriots Plus, a tuition-based, half-day enrichment program to extend the day for students who attend the district’s free prekindergarten — also half-day. With a fee of $500 a month, the program will be self-sustaining, Carlson said.  

The prekindergarten curriculum, currently offered at Nassakeag Elementary, will expand to all five of the district’s elementary schools in the fall, at no additional cost to the district.

Next year, Three Village will also add a sixth-grade guidance counselor to circulate among the five elementary schools, and the high school will offer a new musical theater class.

Potential changes to staffing are the result of enrollment and student requests, Carlson said. Even so, changes would be small — possibly a reduction of two full-time equivalents at the elementary level and two to three FTEs at the secondary level, he said.

School board

Kornreich, chair of the school board’s audit committee, has been a trustee since 2008. “I’m appreciative to have the opportunity to represent the community and am looking forward to working with a board that puts the needs of children first,” he said Tuesday night. 

Earlier this year Vizzo, after 34 years as a teacher and administrator in the district, retired from his position as principal of R.C. Murphy Junior High School. When he officially begins his term on the board this July, he will assume the seat vacated by Angelique Ragolia. 

“In my new role as board trustee, I look forward to working with my board colleagues to sustain the excellence of our district and will continue to advocate for all students,” he said in an email.

Administration

While attendees of Tuesday’s meeting awaited the election results, parents, coaches, students and alumni gathered to speak on behalf of Peter Melore, executive director health, physical education, recreation & athletics for the district. They expressed concern that he may not be returning to his position next year. 

Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said in a statement, “We certainly value and respect the feedback of our community. However, we are unable to comment on personnel issues.”

In other news, Karen Mizell was named the principal of Setauket Elementary School, and Deana Rinaldi Spanos was appointed as assistant principal of the school.

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Jeff Carlson, assistant superintendent for business services, discusses the proposed 2019-20 school district budget. Photo by Andrea Paldy

By Andrea Paldy

Three Village is set to stay within the 2.53 percent cap on the tax levy increase.

Jeff Carlson, assistant superintendent for business services, made the announcement March 27 as he previewed the 2019-20 Three Village Central School District budget during its board meeting.

Based on numbers released Monday in the state budget, Three Village will receive about $34.7 million in state aid, not including funding for capital projects. The amount is $287,000 above last year’s aid package and $175,000 more than estimated in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) proposal in January, Carlson said.

Among the district’s biggest expenses are retirement costs, which will decrease by about $1.2 million, and health insurance, which will increase by about 2 percent, the assistant superintendent said. Nevertheless, the district will not have to cut programs or staffing to stay within the cap, he said.

Decisions on programs and services will be based on enrollment and student need, and in coming weeks, the administration will meet with building principals to assess course requests and enrollment, Carlson said.

Next year, for the first time, the district will offer its free prekindergarten program — currently housed at Nassakeag Elementary — at each of its five elementary schools. Morning and afternoon sessions, taught by Three Village teachers, will meet for two and a half hours five days a week. This will be at no additional cost to the district, officials have said.

To supplement the program, the district will add a tuition-based, half-day prekindergarten enrichment program. The “fully self-sustaining” extended day will offer enrichment in STEM, art, music and movement during morning and afternoon sessions. Carlson said that there are already 100 students enrolled for the up to 200 spots across the district. Tuition — $500 a month — will also cover the cost of building age-appropriate playgrounds at each of the schools, he said.

The board is scheduled to adopt next year’s budget at the April 10 meeting. Three Village residents will vote on the budget May 21, at the district’s secondary schools. Residents zoned for Arrowhead, Minnesauke and Nassakeag elementary schools will vote at Ward Melville High School. Those zoned for Mount Elementary, will vote at R.C. Murphy Jr. High School, while Setauket-zoned residents will vote at P.J. Gelinas Jr. High School.

New principal

Minnesauke principal Brian Biscari was appointed principal of R.C. Murphy Jr. High School. His appointment is effective July 1. Biscari will take over for Richard Pulaski, who has been serving as interim principal since Vincent Vizzo retired Feb 1. Vizzo, who was Murphy’s principal for 14 years, had worked in the district for 34 years. The district is interviewing candidates to head Minnesauke, where Biscari has served as principal since 2011, when he joined the school district.

Regeneron scholars

In other news, representatives from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals presented certificates to Ward Melville’s four Regeneron Science Talent Search Scholars — the most from any Long Island high school. The honorees were Kelsey Ge, Maya Peña-Lobel, Megan Specht and Elizabeth Wang.

Kim DeCristofaro, a representative from the company and a parent of Ward Melville graduates, thanked Three Village on behalf of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals for “continuing to provide opportunities for students to pursue scientific research.”

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Some of the staff members who took the EMT course were recognized by the board at the Aug. 22 BOE meeting. Photo from the Three Village Central School District

By Andrea Paldy

Three Village school district officials devoted a large segment of their second meeting of the new school year to addressing security infrastructure, training and protocols.

Jack Blaum. File photo by Andrea Paldy

Jack Blaum, district security coordinator and chief emergency officer, used the Sept. 5 meeting to review procedures and highlight enhancements for the year ahead. The school district now has 11 new emergency management technicians on staff, he said. These are district employees — among them Jeff Carlson, assistant superintendent for business services — who trained with the Suffolk County Office of Emergency Management in the spring.

Three Village is the first K-12 school district in the state to run and graduate students from an EMT course, Blaum said. Having EMTs on staff means school nurses have a support system and additional resources, he said.

During a phone interview, Carlson said it is as important to have personnel trained in “everyday” needs such as CPR and bleed control as it is to be trained in protocol for an active shooter.

“The more people that know CPR, the better for all of us,” he said, adding that having first responders on site could improve recovery time and even chances of survival.

The 200-hour course included hefty reading assignments, homework and weekly tests, in addition to practical instruction in CPR, splinting, patient assessment and transport with other skills required of an EMT, Carlson said. Participants completed hospital and ambulance rotations. To receive certification, they took two New York State exams — one written and one practical — to demonstrate their skills.

The school district plans to offer more EMT courses, Blaum said, adding that he hopes with funding from the county and state, the district could eventually be its own first-responder agency.

Also new to the district’s arsenal of security procedures is an enhanced ID scanner in building entrance vestibules. The district has locked all
entrances to schools during school hours since the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting. The default lockout system currently in place ensures that visitors enter the building only after scanning an ID and being buzzed through two doors.

New scanner software cross-references the Megan’s Law sex offender database and allows the district administration to add pertinent information to flag individuals who should not enter buildings.

“The more people that know CPR, the better for all of us.”

— Jeff Carlson

These safeguards are in addition to other “target hardening strategies” already in place, such as bullet-resistant film, lockdown drills and interior doors that are lockable with a single key so that a staff member can secure any classroom door from the inside in case of an emergency. Additionally, each building has a hidden “panic system” and an automated lockdown alert system.

Blaum said security guards at each school are either active or retired law enforcement officers. Along with vehicle patrols and interior and exterior camera surveillance, the district works closely with the Setauket and Stony Brook fire departments and has direct lines to the Suffolk County Police Department’s 6th Precinct. There is also district staff trained in bleeding control, lockdown and active shooter options, improvised explosive recognition and planning for bombing incidents, Blaum said.

“Mental well-being is the key to all of this,” he said, explaining that the district’s measures to increase guidance- and mental-health staff can help ensure the well-being of staff and students and assist in keeping the community safe. Even so, Blaum said he and his team remain vigilant and work with administrators, psychologists, social workers and the school resource officer to assess threats.

Though these protocols and infrastructure are in place, Blaum said national events compel him to always look for ways to improve security in the school district. Future enhancements could include upgrades to automated classroom door locks that activate all locks at once, ID scanning to let staff open interior doors with ID badges, and perimeter gates at the high school.

The district will host a safety and security community forum at R.C. Murphy Junior High School, Sept. 13, at 7 p.m.

File photo by Greg Catalano

By Andrea Paldy

With residents set to vote on the school budget May 15, Three Village officials reviewed pertinent financial details at a public hearing during the May 2 school board meeting.

$209.8 million budget stays within cap

A main point is that the district will stay within the 1.97 percent cap on the tax levy increase without the need to cut programs, Jeff Carlson, the district’s superintendent for business services, said to those gathered for the Wednesday meeting.

School board president William Connors is running unopposed for his seat on the board. File photo by Andrea Paldy

Highlights of the $209.8 million budget include measures to increase student safety and well-being and to support elementary science and music programs.

Cheryl Pedisich, district superintendent, said the district will hire an additional guidance counselor at Ward Melville High School, as well as a psychologist to administer tests throughout the district to “free up” school psychologists to offer more counseling and guidance. She said security is multi-faceted.

“It’s not just infrastructure and security staff,” she said. “It’s also clinical staff.”

Three Village will receive $34.4 million — an increase of $833,579 —  in aid from the state, Carlson said.  It does not include building aid, which is tied to capital projects that vary from year to year.

The administrators said that declining enrollment at the elementary level, secondary student course preferences, retirements and administrative restructuring, all serve to ease the path for program enhancements.

A decrease of 120 to 130 elementary-age students could mean a reduction of two full-time equivalent positions in the early grades.  Pedisich said that would enable the district to add three teaching assistants to two from existing staffing as it prepares for the 2020 implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards. Lower student numbers also mean that the district can offer third-grade orchestra in the fall.

At the secondary level, changes in course enrollment could lead to a decrease of two to three FTEs, said Pedisich. As a result, the upcoming budget will be able to support an assistant athletic trainer to provide coverage for junior varsity games and seventh- and eighth-grade contact sports, as well as the addition of one full-time equivalent clerical staff member. Each junior high will have its own assistant to support the media specialists with the roll-out of the one-to-one device program that equips seventh through ninth graders with Chromebooks, the superintendent said.

“We have excellent programs and services, and the community has supported us in those efforts.”

— William Connors

Additional positions include one FTE for maintenance and shifting the transition coordinator, who assists special needs students in their move to the next stage after high school, from a contract position to one that is in-house.

Administrative retirements offer the district an opportunity to save funds by combining positions, while also being more “effective in terms of the delivery of curriculum,” Pedisich said.

With the retirement of the high school chair of foreign languages, a new position that oversees foreign language and English as a New Language is being created districtwide for kindergarten through 12th grade. Similarly, the retirement of the assistant director of health and physical education, who oversaw high school programs, will result in a coordinating chair of physical education and health for elementary grades and one for all secondary grades. The district will not replace the administrator retiring from the child nutrition program, Pedisich said.

In other changes, Ward Melville High School principal, Alan Baum, will move to the North Country administrative building to become Executive Director of Secondary Curriculum and Human Resources. William Bernhard, principal at P.J. Gelinas Junior High, will become the new high school principal.

Two trustees up for vote

Besides the budget, residents will also vote for school board trustees. School board president William Connors and trustee Deanna Bavlnka are running unopposed to hold their seats.

Connors, the father of three Ward Melville High School graduates, is running for his third term since being elected in 2012. He previously served on the board from 1994-2006 and said during a recent interview that his time on the board has taught him that the community will support a “reasonable” budget, sometimes at “great financial sacrifice.”

Deanna Bavlnka, elected for the first time in 2011, is running unopposed for her seat on the Three Village school board. Photo from candidate

“We have excellent programs and services, and the community has supported us in those efforts,” said Connors, who retired from his position as associate vice president of academic affairs and college dean of faculty at Suffolk Community College in 2011.

He noted that the district offers first-rate programs, catering to all students, at all grade and academic levels, and now that also includes pre-kindergarteners. The next step, he said, is adding more vocational courses to address the needs of students whose next stop may not be college.

Connors said he takes his role as board president seriously.

“I try to present a public voice of the board,” he said. “I try to represent the board of education and what we stand for and advocate for the district.”

Fellow trustee and Ward Melville graduate Bavlnka also is proud of the district’s free prekindergarten program offered at Nassakeag Elementary School.

Director of human resources at P.W. Grosser Consulting, Bavlnka listed among the district’s recent accomplishments the elementary STEM program, establishment of writing and math centers at the secondary schools and the one-to-one device program currently in its first year at the district’s junior highs.

Bavlnka was elected for the first time in 2011, and like Connors, notes the challenge of sustaining quality programs while remaining fiscally responsible.

“As a board trustee, we represent the entire school community,” she said in an email.  Bavlnka added that the board accepts accountability for clearly representing the community “both from an educational and budgetary perspective.”

The vote for the Three Village school budget and board trustees will take place May 15, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.  Residents zoned for Arrowhead, Minnesauke and Nassakeag elementary schools will vote at Ward Melville High School. Those zoned for Setauket Elementary will vote at P.J. Gelinas Junior High, and residents in W.S. Mount Elementary zoning will vote at R.C. Murphy Junior High.

Budget stays within 1.97 percent cap

On Feb. 13, parents of Setauket Elementary School students spoke to the board of education about establishing a districtwide sustainability and wellness task force. File photo

The Three Village Central School District Board of Education has adopted a $209.8 million budget for the 2018-19 school year.

Among its proposals are additional resources for student mental health and counseling services, athletic training and elementary science.

Jeff Carlson, assistant superintendent for business services, who outlined the budget at the April 12 meeting, said it will stay within the 1.97 percent cap on the tax levy increase. There will also be no cuts for budgetary reasons, he said.

Jeff Carlson laid out the 2018-2019 school budget at the April 12 board of education meeting. File photo

As far as revenue, New York State will give the district an additional $833,579 in state aid, for a total of $34.4 million, Carlson said. The amount does not include building aid, which is tied to specific capital improvements and varies from year to year, he said.

The assistant superintendent said the budget is based on a combination of declining enrollment, staffing changes, student interest in courses across the secondary level and administrative restructuring. The result is easing the way for the proposed enhancements, he said.

Big changes will happen at the secondary schools, where enrollment in some courses will result in a reduction of two to three full-time equivalent positions, Carlson said. The district will therefore be able to add one FTE for another guidance counselor at Ward Melville High School and a .5 FTE for a psychometrician — a psychologist to conduct testing throughout the district. District Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said the addition will give school psychologists more availability to counsel students, a decision motivated, in part, by the tragic events in Parkland, Florida.

“We believe that as part of our safety and security procedures and protocol, the need for clinical staff — and a robust staff — is critical to our efforts,” Pedisich said at the March 28 board meeting.

Also, with an eye toward student safety, the administration plans to add an assistant athletic trainer to increase coverage at the district’s athletic events, she said. For greater accountability, the budget includes a transition coordinator to help special needs students transition to the workforce or to the next stage after high school, Pedisich said. This addition will come at a nominal cost, since the district had previously contracted out the position, she said.

The retirement of two administrators — the high school chair of foreign languages and the assistant director of health and physical education— will result in the reduction of two to three FTEs, allowing the district to combine certain positions to be more “effective in terms of the delivery of curriculum,” the superintendent said. One new position will be a district-wide director of foreign language and English as a New Language for kindergarten through 12. Rather than having separate administrators for health and physical education for grades seven through nine and then for 10 through 12, there will be one coordinating chair of physical education and health for all secondary grades and another for kindergarten through sixth grade, she said.

“We believe that as part of our safety and security procedures and protocol, the need for clinical staff — and a robust staff — is critical to our efforts.”

— Cheryl Pedisich

The district will also restore one FTE of clerical help for junior high media specialists and one FTE for a maintenance specialist to increase cost efficiency, Pedisich said.

Similarly, declining enrollment at the elementary level will help the district to maintain a low student-teacher ratio, while also introducing third-grade orchestra at no additional cost to the district.

With the continued decline in elementary school enrollment — between 120 and 130 students next year — there will be two to three fewer sections to staff and a possible decrease of two FTEs, Pedisich said. That will allow the district to add three teaching assistants plus an additional .5 FTE from junior high science staffing — again, due to lower enrollment — to help prepare for the 2020 implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards, Pedisich said. Two more teaching assistants will come from existing staffing.

The Three Village free preschool program at Nassakeag Elementary School will continue into its second year. By the end of March, there were already 128 children enrolled, up from 109 this school year. The district can accommodate up to 200 students and has budgeted up to five FTEs for teachers should the program reach capacity.

Carlson said there will be an increase in the district’s contributions to the employee and teacher retirement systems. To cover the $1.5 million increase, the district will use funds from its reserves, which, he said, are set aside to cover employee retirement costs.

The vote to approve the budget will be held May 15, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Like last year, for security reasons, the vote will take place at the secondary schools. Those zoned for Arrowhead, Minnesauke and Nassakeag elementary schools will vote at Ward Melville High School, while residents zoned for Mount Elementary School will vote at Murphy Junior High. Families zoned for Setauket Elementary will vote at Gelinas Junior High.

Jeff Carlson outlines budget figures. Photo by Andrea Moore Paldy

As school districts begin to move into budget-planning season, the Three Village board will be making decisions with one less board member.

Susanne Mendelson, a trustee since 2010, resigned Wednesday night, saying she wanted to focus on her master’s program in speech language pathology. Her term expires at the end of June.

As far as the budget goes, the forecast looks good and will include staff increases. Jeff Carlson, assistant superintendent for business services, told school board members that there will be no reductions to programs and services in a bid to meet the cap on the tax levy increase.

While the cap for the 2016-17 year is 2.41 percent, state aid will increase by $4.4 million, Carlson said. Of that increase, $2.9 million is building aid that is tied to the district’s construction bond, which was passed in 2014. Carlson said that the final number on state aid usually increases with the approved state budget.

Even so, New York school districts are still losing aid to the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), a measure that deducts money from aid packages to fund the state’s budget. Though the State Senate has voted to eliminate the GEA, the Assembly has yet to vote on the bill. Three Village expects to lose $2.3 million to the GEA for the coming school year. This is down from last year’s $3.3 million. Since the inception of the GEA, the district has lost $34.7 million in aid, which is about $2,576 for the average taxpayer, Carlson said.

He said the plan for next school year includes decreasing dependency on the assigned fund balance, money left over from the previous year and used as revenue to balance the current budget. Currently, $2 million is being used from the fund balance, a decrease from the previous year. Carlson explained that by decreasing the sum allocated from the assigned fund balance, the district will save more money to handle budgetary issues that might arise due to “tax cap issues.”

At the end of the 2015 fiscal year, the district had $17.4 million in its unassigned fund balance — a “rainy day” fund for emergencies — and restricted funds — money designated for specific uses such as workers compensation and unemployment insurance funds.

The continued decline in enrollment at the elementary level — the district anticipates 110 to 120 fewer students — means that 3.0 full-time equivalent (FTE) teaching positions will be reassigned to math academic intervention services (AIS), based on need, at the five elementary schools, Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said.

The secondary level will see an increase of 1.6 FTE positions to rebuild the business department and put back courses such as virtual enterprises and web design. Those “reflect 21st century learning,” Pedisich said. There will also be a .4 increase for American Sign Language.

Additionally, the district plans to add computer science instruction and writing centers at both junior highs. Pedisich said the approximately 60-student decline will mean that existing staff can cover the new programs. The writing center at the high school will get additional staff, a .4 FTE increase. The district will also bring in a technology lead and a special education mentor/behavioral consultant.  Neither of those positions will require additional staffing.

Other staffing changes include a floating nurse — one FTE — an assistant director of facilities, and an addition of 2 FTEs for clerical staff.

Carlson explained that improvements to buildings and property are excluded from the tax cap so that they don’t compete with educational programs. Proposed projects for the next school budget year include reconfiguring the Setauket Elementary School bus loop for better traffic flow, adding air conditioners to the elementary school auditoriums and junior high cafeterias and a generator at W.S. Mount Elementary School.

The budget is set to be adopted on April 13 and the hearing is scheduled for May 4. The public will vote on the budget and select a replacement for Mendelson on May 17.

Mendelson read her resignation letter early in the meeting.

“I have always valued public education and have worked enthusiastically to help ensure that the students of today and tomorrow will have at least — if not more than — what my peers and I were privileged to experience here in Three Village,” she said as she read her letter.

“I must lead by example, and make my own education paramount at this time.”

Mendelson, who has a son in junior high, promised to remain involved with the district as both a parent and a member of the community.